Going into last season, Colorado women's basketball coach Linda Lappe and her assistants had a pretty good idea of how successful their team could be.
They also knew that the Buffaloes didn't have much margin for error.
"We knew everything had to go our way," Lappe said. "We knew that we had players that were going to have to go the distance for us. It just so happened that a few of them got hurt."
As it turned out, not everything went CU's way, and injuries were a big part of the season. Nevertheless, Lappe doesn't consider this past season, when her team went 19-15, a step back for the program.
"I don't ever think you go backwards because of what you're learning, and the experiences you get to have as a team," Lappe said. "Sometimes bad experiences, or what a lot of people would call negative experiences, aren't really negative if you learn from them. They can be very, very positive."
In 2013, the Buffs snapped a nine-year NCAA Tournament drought, going 25-7 along the way.
Although they did lose All-Pac-12 guard Chucky Jeffery off of that team, there was plenty of optimism this past season. A 9-0 start helped the Buffs vault to No. 11 in the national rankings. They were 10-1 going into Pac-12 play, with their only loss at 2013 national runner-up Louisville.
"Quite frankly we didn't earn No. 11 this year," Lappe said. "That was kind of built off of last year. We felt we could be that good. We felt like we were right there, but we just didn't do the things that we needed to."
After that 10-1 start, the Buffs lost 11 of their next 15 games.
Without much depth on the roster, the Buffs struggled when starters Jasmine Sborov (who played just 14 games), Lexy Kresl, Jen Reese, Ashley Wilson and Brittany Wilson went down with injuries at various times. Centers Rachel Hargis and Jamee Swan were the only two players on the roster to play in all 34 games. Just two — Arielle Roberson and Brittany Wilson — started more than 20 games.
"I thought we started off really strong, we ended I thought really strong," said Lappe, whose team finished 5-3 and advanced to the third round of the Women's NIT. "There were some bumps in the middle. But I felt like we learned a lot from the middle. We learned a lot about who we are as a team and what we need to be."
Perhaps the biggest lesson the Buffs got out of this past year was the need to be tougher mentally.
"Yes, at times I was surprised at how we were playing and the intensity we were playing with, our focus," Lappe said. "Our focus was really a downfall. I did not think we were very mentally tough this year. It's something that we've got to get better at in the offseason."
The positive is that mental toughness is something this team has displayed in the past, so it's just a matter of getting it back.
CU does lose three pivotal seniors — Hargis and the Wilson twins — this offseason, but returns a strong group of seniors next year. Kresl, Reese and Sborov will all be seniors and all have the maturity and talent to lead the Buffs to greater things. Throw in Roberson, a redshirt junior who came into CU with those seniors, and it's a core group Lappe feels comfortable leaning on this summer.
"We feel like that's a great foundation," Lappe said. "They've been here when we were still building and they didn't like how last year went. Whenever you have a group of seniors like those three, and then Arielle as a redshirt, you feel really good with their leadership and their ability to take the team over and make sure everybody is up to their standard."
Despite the disappointing results of this past season, CU's standard remains high.
The Buffs will spend the summer working on their skills on the court, their strength in the weight room and their conditioning. Work hard in those areas, and it should benefit them above the neck, Lappe said.
"We'll become mentally tougher as we feel tougher, as we feel better, as we feel like we've worked really hard and we feel like we can play at a high level and we practice at a high level," she said. "That all makes your mental toughness even better."